The Sport that makes Kings of Mortals and Mortals of Kings

ImageThe word “tennis” derives from the old 16th century French word “tenez”, a verbal warning cried by the players meaning either “take!” or “receive!”  In this period of history, the sport could be easily recognised as the game we play today, using a racquet to hit a ball of cork, coated in fabric, across a large, indoor court to the opponent at the other side of a net.

But the origins of this popular sport began around four centuries earlier in French monasteries, when the ball was served and returned using the palm of the players’ hands.  The game eventually began to spread to the rest of the population, and King Louis X of France, who reigned from 29th November 1314 to 5th June 1316, is the first documented player.  His enthusiasm for the game grew and grew, leading to his ultimate demise.  Following a particularly energetic match, the 27-year-old monarch decided to cool down by consuming a large quantity of wine…. and died!  Some say he died of pleurisy, others argue it was brought on by pneumonia.  But some suspect it was something far more sinister.  Could his opponent have poisoned the king’s wine in a jealous rage?  Perhaps the truth will never be known.

Despite this royal tragedy, jeu de paume, or “the game of palms”, continued to grow in popularity, and by the 1590s the sport had won a place in every nation’s heart.  In Paris alone there were around 250 indoor courts, with hundreds more being constructed across the rest of Europe.  The game had already been discovered by the English Royal Family when Henry V took a keen interest, however, it was Henry VIII who arguably made the game popular by building a lavish court at his magnificent Hampton Court Palace.

The game continued to develop throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and by the 19th century the lawnmower had been invented, which enticed the players onto outdoor courts.  This was the birth of lawn tennis, which ultimately paved the way for a British player – by the name of Andy Murray – to win Wimbledon for the first time in 77 years.

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Smiling June

smjunSmiling June has come at last;

Lovely May away is past:

Gentle rain has kiss’d the ground;

Flora’s train peeps all around;

Blossoms rich and beauteous are;

Pleasure teems both near and far;

Early fruits from blossoms gay,

Now to man their uses pay;

Meadows smile with verdant green,

While the kine are feeding seen;

Green are all the forest trees,

Rustling in the gentle breeze;

Bees are flying now about,

Tasting flow’rets on their route;

Fishes bask in lakes and streams;

Poets’ minds are fill’d with dreams;

Larks are carolling on high;

Nature seems with heav’n to vie;

Lambkins lively skip and play;

Nature truly is most gay!

June is midway sweetly fix’d

Spring and summer just betwixt:

Old and young strut now along,

Praising nature with a song:

Though much pleasure now there be,

Nature feels her destiny:

Look ye there! that insect fly

Lives an hour or two – to die! -

Emblematical of man,

Human life is but a span!

Composed in 1841 by John Hewitt, who described himself in the 1871 English census as “author of the History of Wakefield, Miscellaneous Poems, and newspaper reporter; news and shipping agent; hairdresser; perfumer; and tea and tobacco dealer”, from his home at Hewitt Terrace!  Can one of your ancestors better that fabulous job title?  Find out by contacting Ancestry by Heir Line, the professional genealogical consultants.

Charles Waterton: The Eccentric Who Changed the World

ImageA few miles south of the city of Wakefield, in the heart of West Yorkshire, lie the ruins of Sandal Castle, a once medieval stronghold where Dukes, Earls and Kings of England once fought bloodied battles… and where they were brutally slain.  Not far from this ruinous place, in a picturesque village known as Walton, stands a stone hall surrounded by a glistening lake, accessible only by boat or a small footbridge.  This was a place where, for a very long time, no gun was ever fired, no sword drawn, and where the only sounds to be heard were the calls of feathered friends, swooping around in merry flocks, making their nests in the sprawling woodland surrounding the lake of Walton Hall.  All kinds of life was welcome at this place: species familiar to the land, and those not-so-familiar, lured by the widespread tales of the welcome they would receive by Charles Waterton Esq., the owner of this vast estate.

Mr. Waterton was an early 19th century naturalist who travelled the globe in search of…. well, perhaps not even he was sure.  The only thing he was certain of was that life in conventional England was dull and tedious for a young man with an urge to explore.  He dreamed of roaming free through the wildest regions of South America, crossing the equator with the courage of a lion and the trained instincts of a savage, combined with the accurate observations of a man of science and the rich delight of a poet.

In his youth Charles Waterton could never have been described as a star pupil.  When he was nine years old he was sent away by his strict Catholic parents to a boarding school in the dreary North of England.  Though he made very little progress in learning, he excelled in the art of bird nesting, and longed for the day when he could be free to make his own start in life, doing what he wanted to do and not what the authorities thought proper for him to do.  

As soon as he was old enough, he was away to whichever foreign clime took his fancy, to study the local fowl and pond-life in fresh-water swamps.  He roamed the intricacies of the forests, plunging fearlessly into its cool depths, in search of anything bright and new.  Barefoot and often alone, he pulled poisonous snakes out of their lurking places, climbed up to the very top of the tallest trees to peep into holes and crevices in search of bats and vampires, pursued the wildest of beasts over hills and dales, before returning, tired, frayed and sunburnt, his pockets and bags overflowing with hundreds of new specimens, to his little haven in the south of Wakefield.  (Though he may have been guilty of dreaming up a few of the creations on show!)

The purpose of his very first expedition was to collect a sample of the mythical Wourali poison, excreted from the creeping vines of the Amazonian valley, the existence of which had hitherto been widely doubted by many.  When mixed together and boiled with two kinds of bulbous plants, two species of ants, a quantity of Indian pepper, and the ground fangs of two species of snake, along with a copious amount of divine intervention from evil spirits, it was said to form a thick, deadly syrup that caused instant death.  The slightest drop of the liquid into the bloodstream rendered the victim paralysed, and hence the Amazonian natives used to coat their arrowheads with the poison.

Of course, a curious Waterton couldn’t resist trying out this new substance as soon as he returned, and set to work on poisoning a number of birds and animals in his possession.  He made a record of his observations, and stated that in each case no pain or discomfort seemed to have been experienced.  Instead, a powerful sleepiness gradually overcame the poor creatures, and in just a few minutes they had silently passed away.

One such victim of Waterton’s experiment was a female ass, which took ten minutes to die.  But Waterton was not yet finished.  After the death, he made an opening in the creature’s windpipe, inserted a pair of bellows, and spent the next two hours pumping air into the lungs, until the ass miraculously began to show the merest flicker of life once more.  Waterton continued for two hours more, tirelessly inflating the body with life-giving oxygen, until, at last, the ass somehow rose to its feet and began walking!  It took a further 12 months for the ass to recover to a full state of health again, but she was said to have become fat and frisky, and lived happily on Waterton’s estate for another 24 years.  She was named Wouralia, after the deadly poison.

Though his experiments will undoubtedly be considered cruel, heartless and unnecessary today, Waterton’s actions caused many people to wonder whether artificial resuscitation, as demonstrated on Wouralia, could be carried out on human beings until the lungs resumed their natural action once more.

And thus history was made by an ass and a lunatic in a sleepy little village in the North of England.

To find out more about Ancestry by Heir Line’s historical findings, visit www.heir-line.co.uk or become friends with us on Facebook and Twitter - perhaps you will even discover something about your own family history!

Extracts taken from ‘Remarkable Men’.

Murder on the Railway

falckWas it murder?  More than a century on, one of the greatest, but long-forgotten mysteries of the 19th century remains unsolved.

On 4th October 1899, the coroner’s jury failed to find a verdict of suicide in the strange case of Alfred Lambert Falck.  Instead, an open verdict was returned; the jury intimating that they desired to suggest the theory of murder!

Mr. Falck was the son of a wealthy merchant who lived at 90 Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill, London.  According to the Leeds Times newspaper, he was employed as a clerk by Messrs. Potter and Sons, merchants of Aldersgate Street.

One day, Mr. Falck, aged just 19, was found slumped in a second class train carriage at Gloucester Road, barely alive.  According to the evidence of two railway guards, Mr. Falck was discovered in a kneeling position, his head resting on the seat and a bullet wound in his forehead.  The weapon – a revolver with one chamber discharged – was lying at the victim’s feet, and a box of cartridges was beside him on the carriage seat.  Police could find no signs of a struggle, nor was anybody witnessed entering or leaving the carriage.

The wounded young man was taken to a waiting room at the station, where he died from his injuries a few minutes later.  There was no further evidence found upon his person to throw any light on this perplexing tragedy.

Was it murder, or did Mr. Falck decide to take his own life that day?  And if the latter, what had driven this successful young man to such a terrible fate?  His family had no explanation.

To uncover lots of fascinating skeletons in your family’s history, visit Ancestry by Heir Line’s website for more information about commissioning professional research into your past.

It’s Easter!

ee“Here’s two or three jolly boys, all of one mind,

We have come a Pace-egging, and hope you’ll prove kind;

I hope you’ll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer,

And we’ll come no more near you until the next year.”

So went the old northern rhyme that once drifted up and down the cobbled streets at Easter-time, as the young boys of the towns made their way from door to door in search of treats, just as Americans do today at Halloween.  It was an old tradition in the north of England for children to go “begging” for Easter eggs, although over time, the “strong beer” as mentioned in the ditty became the youngsters’ main priority!

Pace, or Pasche, (meaning Easter), eggs were traditionally presented to children on Easter Monday and Tuesday, particularly in the northern counties.  Communities used to gather in meadows, and specially prepared hard-boiled eggs were handed out.  These were usually decorated by boiling them with brightly coloured ribbons, or painted with dye, and covering them in gilding.  People’s names, or memorable dates, were even inscribed in some of the shells using tallow candles.  The children would each hold an egg in their hand, and challenge a friend to an egg duel.  Whoever could break another’s egg, after a blow for blow battle, would be crowned “A Cock of One, Two, Three…” or however many eggs they had broken.

By the 1870s, new “magic eggs” had been introduced to England, which contained inside a variety of surprises, including bonbons, gloves, scents, and many other knickknacks that would have made lovely Easter gifts – (a far cry from today’s offerings, when a couple of Smarties inside an ever-thinning chocolate shell is all one can look forward to!)

Over three centuries earlier, King Henry VIII and his queen, Anne Boleyn, used to mark Easter-tide by watching their loyal subjects roll down Greenwich Hill, (no doubt breaking countless health and safety rules, as well as bones, as they went), before travelling on a gaily-decked barge down the river, and enjoying a festive meal of tansy pudding and bacon.  The ordinary people of the land would enjoy traditional lamb and mint sauce for their Easter Sunday meal, though the citizens of Norfolk made it their tradition to enjoy baked custards at this time of the year.

Even further back in time, when the Saxons converted to Christianity around the 7th century, they changed their pagan springtime festival, (which was held in honour of the goddess Eástre), into a Christian feast to mark the miracle of the resurrection.  Thus began the long and ever-changing tradition of Easter.

For more information about your own family’s history, whether they were hill-rollers, barge-travellers or Easter egg Cocks, visit the professional genealogy company, Ancestry by Heir Line, for more information.

The Secret to Longevity

joseph firthJoseph Firth was said to have been 102 years old when he died at Sandal Magna, just outside the Yorkshire market town of Wakefield, in 1835.  He was about six and a half feet tall, and was said to have been a very “singular man” who never married.  As a result, he was exceptionally wealthy, though he infamously spent very little of his fortune.  He owned his own home near Toll Bar, which was called Firth’s Buildings, and lived a completely carefree existence by himself, without even employing a domestic servant.

Firth’s fellow townsfolk had always been greatly amused by his comical personality, in particular the way he used to treat his two horses.  He’d owned them for many decades, but had never bothered to train them or break them in at all!  In fact, he made no effort to tame them whatsoever.  Instead, he simply drove them to and from their stables and his field in Portobello, completely untethered, without harness or bridle, or any form of obvious control.

“Go on, my filly foals!” he would be heard to exclaim as he accompanied them through the streets.  “Go on, my filly foals!”

He never gave them any other names.

In 1812, four neighbourly women from the Toll Bar district, Mrs. Walsh, Mrs. Crowther, Mrs. Illingworth, and Mrs. Johnson, took pity on the bachelor and decided it was about time that he was treated to a good, hearty breakfast, as only a woman could make.  When this suggestion was put to Mr. Firth, he readily accepted without any hesitation.

Armed with cakes, tea, cream, rum, and many other luxurious articles, the ladies arrived at Firth’s Buildings early one morning and began whipping up a welcome and substantial breakfast, fit for an aristocrat.  Unfortunately, when they came to serve the banquet, they discovered that Firth’s china teacups and saucers were not even large enough to serve more than three or four thimblesful of food.  The ladies muttered disapprovingly, and all agreed that a good wife would have seen to it that the house was properly furnished with a more suitable tea set.  However, the company did not let this slight hiccup dampen their spirits, and the five of them had a merry old frolic together.  By the end of the morning, each lady had found herself plied with no fewer than 30 tiny cups of tea, and they each felt slightly exhilarated.  As is well known, tea is not an intoxicating drink, but as the ladies preferred a “good old-fashioned style” beverage, each cup had been mixed with copious amounts of rum.  As there had not been enough tiny teacups to go round, Firth had had to drink his tea from an earthenware bason, which held about a pint of liquid.

“I will drink as many basonsful of tea as my visitors each drink cupsful!” he’d proudly declared.

And so he did, complete with a plentiful mixture of rum.  He had to be put to bed by the four ladies before it was even time for lunch.  They left him there once breakfast was over, with the remaining bottle of rum by his side.

After that day, whenever he passed the four ladies in the street, he would smile, tip his hat, and enquire, “Ah, lasses!  When are we to have another good stir?”

The ladies simply smiled, giggled, and went about their business.

To find out if you had a character like Joseph Firth in your family history, contact the professional genealogy company, Ancestry by Heir Line, to learn all about your Yorkshire ancestors.